I. Georgics

Part One

in a series of three lectures by Jorian Polis Schutz, entitled What Might Georgical Jubilism Be?

Georgics Lecture Handout

Comments welcome, see below.

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8 thoughts on “I. Georgics

  1. Thank you for these words and this expression of Georgical Jubilism- a prayer and prophecy and timeless wisdom. The unification and re-meeting of farming as art is a sacred rectification, and one that touches upon the taproot of human culture. Farming tells the story of our relationship with the wild ecology around us; of our own evolution, from hunter/gatherer to domestication and cultivation, and our own domestication in the process. Farming is a form of the artistic process- of observation of life/death/mystery; the interactive response, and the co-creation that is expressed from this meeting/communion. It is a reflection and meditation on our own power as human beings, our needs/vulnerabilities, and our shadow within. The tension of farmer and artist is also expressed as the tension between the energies of beauty & efficiency. Can they be one? Can they be married? Our modern, industrial, profit-oriented agricultural efficiency of today is killing the farmer as artist; killing the plant as art; turning our plants and ourselves into slaves. Farming must be art, beauty, a prayer, an offering, for an agri-culture, and culture, to be a healthy one. It must be a giving as much as a taking/receiving. I do not believe this is a romantic notion. Let it be a challenge- a lifelong challenge that has been with us through our ancestors and their ancestors. Let it be a language of both grief and praise, of gratitude and humility. As we allow beauty to be re-membered into our farming practices, into our relationship with food and all ‘harvests’, the farmer will again become an artist, and we all will re-member ourselves as artists. And perhaps then we can marry the wild and the domesticated, the beauty and the efficiency, and perhaps over time marry the ‘dragon’ and the village.

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  2. Agriculture is the art of the land
    Art is the agriculture of the mind
    Poetry is the land of agriculture and art
    Love is the guiding light of poetry.
    Susan Polis Schutz

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  3. This is an incredible analysis and revelation, Jorian! I just finished listening to part 1, and am very excited to hear parts 2 and 3. There is a lot to respond to here, but I felt most attracted to this concept that Virgil highlights of the Saturnian golden age, and the subsequent fall under Jove. I certainly never knew this idea before, and absolutely would not have connected it with one’s connection to Nature. I found the notion fascinating that Nature’s bounty came easily at one point in time, thus creating peace and joy on Earth, but it was industry and toil under Jove that gave rise to human ingenuity. I wanted to ask–and perhaps it will be addressed in parts 2 and 3–whether Virgil more rhapsodized the age of Nature under Saturn or Jove? The lecture really wonderfully bears out the joy to be found in living simply alongside Nature rather than taking and subjugating it. I might be imposing my own feelings on the central argument, but the images you quote–goats playing in the yard, for example–resonated very strongly with me. This dichotomy of an innocent time when animals were free from worry vs. the time after, when they must concern themselves with the hardships of being alive and sentient, reminded me of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. As a final note, I wanted to say how beautifully written and spoken I found your lecture. You conveyed very complex ideas in a way that I instantly understood. Wonderful!

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    • Thank you Marlon!
      regarding your question about Virgil rhapsodizing about the Saturnian age vs. the Jovian age: I think this is in many ways parallel to the central georgical paradox / tension between work and representation. Think about it: both farming and the hard work that is poetry-making can only really be understood by us in the “present age” of work. So whatever we acheive here, even in evoking the “previous age’ or the “age to come” is nonetheless a product of our age, the age of work. We often commit a sort of “orientalism” or “sentimentalism” with regard to life before (or after) our time, because it is not a time that we know (except perhaps in part from our youth, or from watching animals, as you say).

      What you write about the little goats is interesting, because I don’t think Virgil is really talking about an age in which the animals were necessarily more innocent / protected, but an age in which the humans were more innocent / protected– but this idea of the Saturnian / Edenic age finds its closest image and metaphor precisely in our domesticated animals, which we have the chance to treat with great love and generosity, and which have been “removed” to a certain extent from the harsh realities of nature. So, in the very place of the work, in the “depths of the Jovian age” (or what in Hebrew we might call galut), we find a little link, a hint, to the prior age, and to the coming age–through our work!–and for this reason we are able to evoke it in our minds and in our poetry, and for this reason we are able to believe in it and look forward to its return.

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      • This is an inspiring topic, writing and commentary. The parallels to the story of the ejection from the garden of Eden with the transition from Saturn to Jupiter is intriguing. And what causes that transition from a time when “…no farmer plowed the earth, men shared all things together, and Earth quite freely yielded the gifts of herself she gave, being unasked” to the time of labor “…unless you take up your hoe, attacking the Enemy weeds over and over again, and over and over again shout at the birds to scare them away, and use your pruning knife to keep on cutting back the overgrowth… you will, alas, end up defeated, staring at your neighbor’s granary full of corn, and in the woods You’ll shake the oak tree, frantic for something to eat”? Virgil then goes on to refer to the “weapons” the farmer needs to sow seeds and raise crops. And earlier writes, “Then came the hardness of iron and then the shriek of the blade of the saw as it made its way (for earlier men used wedges to cleave their wood)… and everything was toil, relentless toil, urged on by need”. It is presented as if the use of metal and “weapons” of agriculture were a response to a change in the environment. That we went from a time of bounty and abundance and harmonious relationship with the world, to a time of scarcity, competition, and conflict. But could it be that the invention and use of metal tools precipitated the shift and “Fall”, and led to a history of conflict and warfare (among ourselves and the world)? This quote comes from a book written by Martin Prechtel, wherein he recites a Mayan story called the Toe Bone and the Tooth:
        “These particular Gods, the sovereigns of the wild mountains and untouched ravines, truly hated steel. They hated the steel of plows and axes, the steel of saws and machetes, the steel of hooks, nails, rifles, and swords… and would come to hate anything that steel could make, cut, carve, or contain… to the Gods steel was the tooth in the jaws of a consuming monster called comfort to which humans were addicted. Steel had a soul…that demanded blood and it was the earth it cut.”

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  4. This is an inspiring topic, writing and commentary. The parallels to the story of the ejection from the garden of Eden with the transition from Saturn to Jupiter is intriguing. And what causes that transition from a time when “…no farmer plowed the earth, men shared all things together, and Earth quite freely yielded the gifts of herself she gave, being unasked” to the time of labor “…unless you take up your hoe, attacking the Enemy weeds over and over again, and over and over again shout at the birds to scare them away, and use your pruning knife to keep on cutting back the overgrowth… you will, alas, end up defeated, staring at your neighbor’s granary full of corn, and in the woods You’ll shake the oak tree, frantic for something to eat”? Virgil then goes on to refer to the “weapons” the farmer needs to sow seeds and raise crops. And earlier writes, “Then came the hardness of iron and then the shriek of the blade of the saw as it made its way (for earlier men used wedges to cleave their wood)… and everything was toil, relentless toil, urged on by need”. It is presented as if the use of metal and “weapons” of agriculture were a response to a change in the environment. That we went from a time of bounty and abundance and harmonious relationship with the world, to a time of scarcity, competition, and conflict. But could it be that the invention and use of metal tools precipitated the shift and “Fall”, and led to a history of conflict and warfare (among ourselves and the world)? This quote comes from a book written by Martin Prechtel, wherein he recites a Mayan story called the Toe Bone and the Tooth:
    “These particular Gods, the sovereigns of the wild mountains and untouched ravines, truly hated steel. They hated the steel of plows and axes, the steel of saws and machetes, the steel of hooks, nails, rifles, and swords… and would come to hate anything that steel could make, cut, carve, or contain… to the Gods steel was the tooth in the jaws of a consuming monster called comfort to which humans were addicted. Steel had a soul…that demanded blood and it was the earth it cut.”

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    • Thank you Gabe, and Yigal, for these comments.

      Some of Yigal’s remarks come close to what I will address in the Jubilism lecture, G-d willing, so keep your ears open for that.

      Briefly, in response to Gabe, on the question of the relative “agency” of advances in technology / tools versus changes in the regime of men or god(s). I think that these views are not necessarily contradictory in the conceptual sense; shifts below can be mirrored by shifts above, simultaneously. The biggest difference for me is not in the conceptual or theological domain but in the domain of practical implications for our mindset. In other words: if one believes that humans generated tools and weapons against the divine will, and initiated a new age in “opposition” to the age of gathering / plenty, etc. then the way out is seemingly to be anti-human, anti-technology, to return to the embrace of the “anti-modern” myth / cosmos (which in Greek / Roman mythology is figured by Kronos/Saturn). If one believes that there was an initiation “from above”– namely that Zeus/Jupiter/Jove overturned the regime of his father, then there is more of an element of inevitability in the historical development, a mysterious cosmic force pushing us onwards, asking certain different things of us for our moment. There is a liberation of the human will here from the weight of ultimate culpability.

      The Hebrew Bible could go either way, or perhaps goes both ways, depending on the interpretive lens. Certainly there is a choice by Chavah (Eve) to eat of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, and a choice by her husband, Adam, to follow her lead. And in a certain sense one can see what results from this choice to be a reactive opposition or “punishment” by the divine hand (somewhat like what you mention, regarding the invention of tools, and the reaction of the gods). But on the other hand there is also the fact that the One G-d, who transcends time, must be aware of the free will that he has given to these beings, and indeed what is happening in the episode with the fruit is an unfolding of the very process that he initiated–namely, the creation of space for individuality, for independent interiority–precisely through an evacuation of divine content (what the kabbalists call tzimtzum, or withdrawal of G-dself, the necessary prerequisite for Creation). The fact that this “distancing” or “withdrawal” from the divine is nonetheless part of the divine plan for the world, and for history, is hinted to in the fact that G-d’s first reaction upon hearing of the event is to take the little garment that Adam and Chavah had made for themselves (which, according to one opinion, was made from the leaves of the very fruit tree they had “sinned” with) and offer them instead a fuller garment for their bodies. Garments are the fundamental technology of separation from nature, and here G-d reacts to the “error” that humans commit by reinforcing it, seemingly confirming that it was part of his plan. So from the beginning there is a notion of high purpose in this controversial act, which might for a while unfold as a series of curses but which will lead to a process of redemption for the world, in which the garments of skin (‘or–עור) become garments of light (or––אור).

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  5. Following up on Gabe’s comments…the aspect of steel/weapons/agricultural tools have also been of interest to me.
    I’d like to connect this to the Biblical narrative to add some further perspective: After the revelation at Mt. Sinai, one of the first instructions given to Moses is the guidelines for creating altars. God asks for an ‘altar of earth’, and if this will be made from stones, we are told: ‘Do not build it of hewn stones; for by wielding your tool upon them you have profaned them.’ (Exodus 21.21-22) Since these tools have been used for weapons of war- and you might also say weapons of civilization- they cannot be used in the creation of an altar, which is a vehicle for peace and prayer.
    Weapons of war and weapons of agriculture, these are forged from the same material and can be used quite similarly or quite differently.
    Later on, in the prophetic writings looking towards the Messianic age, perhaps a return to the Saturn age from the ‘Fall’, the vision shared is of a time when the people of all nations will ‘beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war.’ (Isaiah 2.6)
    From Isaiah’s comments, we can see a transition that has taken place in the minds of the Hebrew peoples. Initially, agriculture is, in a sense, warfare on the earth; the weapons we have crafted from the earth is used to battle with the soil/plant community and ecology (and our own selves). This links us back to the exile from Eden, when agriculture is introduced as a form of toil and struggle. (Genesis 3.17) However, after the Hebrew tribes have transitioned from a nomadic/shepherding culture into a settled/agrarian people in a land they call home, agriculture is now seen in an opposite way- as the vision for peace, and the tools of agriculture are no longer weapons of war but vehicles for peace.
    The story/struggle/paradox of human civilization is held within this transition. Perhaps this is what Virgil means when, as Jorian has commented on, that agriculture is directly associated with the ‘Fall’ but also with the ‘backdoor’ into which we return to the Saturian age. Perhaps it is not by turning aside from agriculture that we return, but it is through learning and forming a sacred relation with it that we can return.
    So…
    When God offers Moses guidelines for the creation of an ‘altar of earth’ there is also the portal into seeing the entire earth as an altar- and this includes our wild ecology & our cultivated fields. How can we celebrate the earth as an altar if we are to build/honor such an altar with these tools? I think this is a sacred question/struggle with us today as much as it was with our ancient ancestors before us.

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